So by writing the name once again, I’m officially giving my ascent of Fir Mountain way more pixels than it deserves – the mountain or the ascent.
I had a great day yesterday. Woke up at about a quarter after five – fifteen minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off – got dressed, and headed out the door. I was so ahead of schedule that I had to drink Dunkin’ Donuts “coffee” on the way up to the Catskills. My local SBUX doesn’t open until 6AM, and I have no idea what time the one at the Sloatsburg rest area opens – but it was after 6 when I got there. Today was actually the first day in recent memory that I didn’t have any SBUX coffee – I wonder if there’s a support group out there for which I now qualify.
But I digress.
And now that I think about it, let me give you a quick overview of why yesterday was a great day – for those of you who don’t dig my verbosity. Fir was all bushwack, which means that I walked into the woods with just a map and a compass, signed in at the canister at the summit, and walked back out of the woods – about a 4 mile round-trip – without setting foot on a trail. Pretty good for a guy with no sense of direction. It was a great experience because I was prepared – I had the gear, experience, and physical fitness to accomplish my goal. I took care of a few responsibilities via phone on the way back home, and spent the afternoon dozing in bed and trading voicemails and text messages with Sabrina. We never did get a chance to get together. I met up with some friends in the evening and and was really grateful for actually living the maxim of “you’ve got to put on your own oxygen mask on yourself before you can put one on anybody else.” (explanation forthcoming)
Ascent/Descent of Fir Mountain
I’ve done several bushwacks before; conceptually, they’re all pretty much the same. “Bushwacking” basically means walking in the woods without the aid of a trail and attendant directional signals called “blazes” on the way. For a guy totally lacking any sense of direction, bushwacking is quite a daunting prospect. As I’ve mentioned before, the sense of accomplishment I get from bushwacking to the top of a mountain is incredible.
In today’s case, I was only climbing one mountain, so my land navigational skills weren’t put as much to the test as they have been in the past (e.g. navigating from the car to the summits of more than one mountain, and then back to the car). There is one basic rule to follow when considering single-mountain ascents: the rule of “up”. Just keep going up (dickhead) until you’re at the top. Easy enough: go up the hill really fast; if something gets in your way, turn.
It was raining off and on to varying degrees today. Whether it was raining at any given moment or not, everything (trees, bushes, branches, rocks, leaves, snow) was wet the whole time. As I mentioned previously, I had the right gear for this: waterproof jacket, teflon pants, gaiters, and waterproof boots. Hiking while wet all the way through is a completely miserable experience – trust me. No matter how waterproof, everything is a little bit heavier when wet.
I made it to the summit easily enough. The descent was the tough part – which made this one of the toughest bushwacks I’ve done so far. After signing in at the canister, I used my map and compass to take my bearing back to the car: about 15 degrees north-northeast. And proceeded to hike south for a couple of hundred yards. Yeah. No sense of direction, remember? I lost a couple of hundred feet of altitude before checking my compass again (to be sure I was still going the right way). Basically, I had to hike in a semi-circle around the summit to get back to the other side. And the semi-circle I had to hike was along a pretty steep ridge – going up or down a ridge like this is certainly daunting, but going across is much more of a pain in the ass.
Here’s where my experience came into play:
First, even though I felt like I was going in the right direction when I was headed south, I knew enough to trust my instruments – that magnetic north hadn’t changed. Second, I’m able to read a map and approximate my location via instrumental and environmental clues. Third, I’ve been turned-around before and made it out ok. I knew which in which direction I needed to head and that the hike was going to take a little bit longer than I anticipated, and I didn’t freak out. Having no sense of direction, being lost is a pretty big fear of mine. I took it slow, knowing that a twisted or broken ankle wouldn’t get me out any faster. And fourth, I made sure that I ate all day long – “stoked my furnace” on the car ride up, and ate what I brought with me while I was on the mountain.
The hike took longer and was a lot harder than I anticipated, but again, I was prepared. I put an extra layer on when I started my descent, because I knew I wasn’t going to be exerting myself as much as on the way up. I switched gloves when one set got wet. I had plenty of food and water (and I consumed both).
As I’ve said I-don’t-know-how-many-times, I’m not a “god guy”. I’m agnostic. That said, even though I’m also a destination hiker, I always find time to stand quietly and enjoy my surroundings while I’m alone in the woods. When I’m doing this, I usually pray aloud. I don’t have any set prayers that I recite, but I usually hit a couple of main themes: “thanks” (for the day, the woods and mountains around me, current and past experiences, etc.) and “guide me”. I usually begin these prayers with and address them to the “Great Spirit”. I used to ask for protection and guidance, but the protection thing made me feel like a wuss, so now I just ask for guidance.
Guidance to help me recognize opportunities for growth – spiritual and otherwise – and opportunities to recognize where I can be of maximum service to the world around me.
I sometimes pray for selfish things – a girl, money, success – but they generally ring hollow, and I figure if I can get the aforementioned guidance, the selfish things will either follow, or they’ll turn out to be things I didn’t want/need anyway.
I’ve found that this type of prayer works well for me. If I do so while I’m hiking, I generally find that I am able to recognize the opportunities over the course of the week that follows.
The Oxygen Mask Maxim
Goes something like this: If I’m on a plane that loses air pressure and the oxygen masks come down, I have to put my own mask on before I can put it on the child sitting next to me. Selfish though it may sound, if I don’t put mine on first and pass out while trying to put on the child’s mask, we both die.
I spoke with several friends today and was able to give good advice and (hopefully) say the right things when speaking to them because I’ve been living this maxim. I’ve been taking care of myself first, instead of being a people-pleaser all the time. I’m happy to say that I’m living up to my professed change of attitude of which I spoke in Ramble On. I had a great day yesterday (and a great weekend overall) because I took care of the things I needed to take care of – which allowed me to be there when other people needed my help.